President Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon has warned Boris Johnson not to ‘bow at the altar of political correctness’ by apologising over his burqa comments.
Johnson’s party is warring after the former foreign secretary sparked outcry when he said women who wear burqas look like letter boxes and bank robbers.
Bannon defended Johnson over the controversial remarks, claiming it was simply a ‘naked pitch’ for the populist vote.
Bannon, who said Johnson would be a ‘great prime minister’ and didn’t need to copy Trump and also said he was ‘ecstatic’ that Tommy Robinson had been released from prison and compared the ex-EDL leader to outspoken rapper Kanye West.
The ex-White House aide’s comments come as cabinet ministers are furiously split over the handling of the situation.
President Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon (left) has warned Boris Johnson (right) not to ‘bow at the altar of political correctness’ by apologising over his burqa comments
Boris Johnson brings tea for members of the press outside his home in Thame, Oxfordshire, on Sunday as the row over his burqa comments continues to divide the Conservative party
Poll finds more than half of voters back Boris in burqa row
More than half of voters believe Boris Johnson should not face disciplinary action for his comments about the burka, according to a new poll.
A total of 53 per cent of people were opposed to punishment for the former foreign secretary, against 40 per cent who said he deserved to be disciplined, the ComRes survey for the Sunday Express showed.
Amid complaints from supporters of an attempt to gag Mr Johnson, the ComRes poll found that 60 per cent of respondents believe that rights to free speech are being weakened, against just 5 per cent who said they were strengthening.
Support for Mr Johnson was markedly higher among older generations, with 77 per cent of over-65s and 63 per cent of 55-64 year-olds saying he should not face discipline, while 62 per cent of 18-24 year-olds and 55 per cent of those in the 25-34 age-group saying he should.
The poll found that Theresa May remains voters’ preferred leader of the Conservatives, by a margin of 26 per cent to 24 per cent over Boris Johnson, with 42 per cent opting for ‘neither’.
Speaking to the Sunday Times, Bannon said: ‘His entire argument revolves around not wanting to ban the burqa but arguing he agrees it’s an oppressive garment and that there is no scriptural basis for in it the Koran, which is true.
‘I think the substance got lost because of his throwaway line.
‘The hysterical mainstream media can never separate the ”signal from the noise” – fortunately the populists can.’
Bannon added: ‘Boris doesn’t need to ape Trump; he needs to be himself – in the digital age authenticity is all.
The former executive chairman of Breitbart News, a far-right news website, refused to comment if he gave advice to Johnson when he visited the UK last month.
Speaking to the Sunday Times, ministers have voiced their frustration over the situation, several siding with Johnson.
One said: ‘It’s been so cack-handed. Boris is a back-bencher. What he said wasn’t that outrageous; a lot of people have said worse and a lot of the party happens to agree with him.
‘The sooner the party throws this investigation out, the better. Lots of people both on the front and back of benches are really p***ed off.’
Another added: ‘It’s been a total cockup from start to finish. What started out as something and nothing has been whipped up into a storm.
Johnson’s party is warring after the former foreign secretary said women who wear burqas look like letter boxes and bank robbers. Pictured: Johnson on Saturday at Gatwick Airport
Mr Johnson poses for a selfie with apparent admirers at Gatwick as the party continues to be split over his comparison of burkas to letterboxes
Bannon likens ex-EDL chief Tommy Robinson to rapper Kanye West
Steve Bannon has likened Tommy Robinson to US rapper Kanye West, saying he is ‘ecstatic’ the ex-EDL leader was released from prison.
Bannon repeatedly called for Robinson, who changed his named from Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, to be released after he was sentenced to 13 months for contempt of court.
However, he has now been released on bail after a panel of judges found his case should have been adjourned, rather than sentencing delivered immediately.
Bannon likened Robinson to the rapper married to Kim Kardashian, claiming they are both a ‘force of nature’.
He told The Sunday Times: ‘Tommy is not just a guy but a movement in and of himself now.
‘He represents the working class and channels a lot of the frustration of everyday, blue collar Britons… He is a force of nature, like Kanye (West) – not built to be managed.’
Bannon, a former investment banker, said authorities were wrong to jail Robinson, and that he deserves an apology.
He led the calls for his release and called him a ‘solid guy’ and the ‘backbone of this country’ while in the UK last month.
‘It would have soon blown over, but in their willingness to see Boris punished all they done is hurt themselves.’
A third minister told the paper: ‘They have managed to engineer a total disaster.
‘There is not a serious political brain in or around Downing Street. Trying to silence Boris is stupid, especially when the majority of people agree with him.’
On Saturday, Johnson touched down at Gatwick Airport in Crawley amid calls for him to attend ‘diversity training’.
Fresh from his holiday in Italy, he returns to a divided response as yesterday Tory grandees demanded that the Conservative Party halt disciplinary proceedings.
The politician posed for a selfie with apparent admirers after supporters rushed to his defence.
Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said the fallout is making the Conservative Party look foolish and claimed there is nothing to investigate.
Lord Tebbit, a former Tory chairman, accused party chiefs of inflaming the row and allowing Jeremy Corbyn to escape scrutiny over allegations of anti-Semitism.
His intervention came as allies of the former foreign secretary expressed fresh concerns last night about how the matter has been handled so far by party chairman Brandon Lewis.
They accused Mr Lewis of discussing the case with Tory MPs, which they said breaches a requirement for complaints to be handled confidentially.
The Tory party launched an investigation into Mr Johnson on Thursday after it received a number of complaints about a newspaper article in which he compared Muslim women who wear the burka to letter boxes and bank robbers.
There are suggestions he could be sent for diversity training as punishment.
Jacob Rees-Mogg (right) has come to the defence of Boris Johnson (left) and said the Conservative Party is being made to look foolish by the fallout
Boris Johnson has refused calls to apologise despite Theresa May (pictured) saying that his remarks caused offence
The former foreign secretary compared burkas to letterboxes and has refused to apologise for his remarks
Lord Tebbitt said last night: ‘It is completely absurd. If they investigate him, they will find that he said nothing racist.
‘He defended the right of women to wear a burka should they wish to do so, but said that they look like a letter box.
‘I suggest the party should not be assisting Corbyn to escape the charge of anti-Semitism which hangs over him.’
Leading Tory backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg said ‘there is nothing to investigate’ and that the affair was ‘making the Conservative Party look foolish’.
Mr Rees-Mogg suggested the attacks on Mr Johnson’s comment were a reflection of ‘envy’ felt towards him because of ‘his many successes, popularity with voters and charisma’.
A group of demonstrators outside the Hillingdon Conservative Association office on Thursday
The howls of outrage directed at the former figurehead of the Leave campaign were ‘suspect’ and the motivations of those attacking him ‘dubious’, said the North East Somerset MP.
‘Could it be that there is a nervousness that a once and probably future leadership contender is becoming too popular and needs to be stopped?’ asked Mr Rees-Mogg.
‘This may explain the attempt to use the Conservative Party’s disciplinary procedures, but it has been handled so ham-fistedly that it brings only sympathy and support for Mr Johnson.’
What is the Tory disciplinary panel and what punishments could it give Boris?
The Tory party launched its new stricter code of conduct in 2017 in the wake of the Westminster sex pest scandal.
Under the rules, any member who is accused of flouting the code of conduct could face a grilling by a disciplinary panel.
Here is the process which faces Boris Johnson:
- A panel consisting of no fewer than three people, is appointed by the Party Chairman Brandon Lewis.
- The panel will include a Tory activist, an independent person and someone nominated by the chairman of the 1922 committee – the powerful body of backbench Conservatives.
- This panel will investigate the complaint and give their findings to Mr Lewis.
- If they find Mr Johnson has broken party rules then they will refer him to Theresa May and the Board of the Tory party, who decide what punishment to mete out.
- They can order a range of punishments – including kicking him out of the party.
How does the party decide what punishment to give out?
It is up to the PM and the board of the Conservative Party to decide what punishment to give out.
The code of conduct states they have discretion to ‘take such action as they see fit. This includes, but is not necessarily limited to, suspension of membership or expulsion from the Party.’
But it suggests that only the most serious cases will be result in the member being kicked out of the party.
The code states: ‘Any removal of rights of membership will only be made after due considerations of natural justice.’
And he added: ‘When Margaret Thatcher was leader, she and Michael Heseltine were hardly soulmates, but she would not have allowed personal rivalry to take the heat off the Labour Party, whose own deep internal divisions are buried in other news now, nor would she have countenanced any attempt to have a show trial.
‘Attacking Boris merely helps the Opposition. It is time for good sense to assert itself, free speech to be encouraged and, as the summer rain falls, for hot-headed action to be cooled down.’
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said the party should end its investigation, noting that Mr Johnson made the remarks while setting out why he was opposed to a ban on the burka.
Mr Duncan Smith told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I don’t agree that there was anything particularly wrong with what he said. You may not agree with the tone or jokes, but we have a thing called freedom of speech in this country.’
He added: ‘I don’t think an internal party system should be there to shut down MPs when they speak. You don’t always have to agree with what people say, but we do defend the right of people saying it.’
Former party vice-chairman and Tory MP Andrew Rosindell said: ‘What is happening to Boris Johnson is a direct attack on our freedom of speech. I fear an eruption of anger amongst our party’s core voters and grass-roots activists if this obsessive political correctness doesn’t stop.’
Former Tory minister James Duddridge added: ‘The Conservative Party has lost the plot if it thinks launching an investigation into Boris’s comments is helpful.
‘Some people just need to take a cold shower, calm down and have a holiday.’
Supporters of Mr Johnson last night condemned Mr Lewis after Tory MPs wrote in a WhatsApp group that he had held discussions with them about the case.
A former Cabinet minister said: ‘The party’s code is a legal process that must be conducted fairly and confidentially in accordance with natural justice.
‘With his briefing, leaking and off-the-record chats with other MPs, Brandon Lewis has made a mockery of the whole system. His reckless behaviour means the process cannot now be independent or fair.
‘This attack on Boris must be abandoned before more harm is done to our party by the party chairman, and Lewis needs to consider his own position given his disastrous role in this fiasco.’
Ken Livingstone calls for Boris Johnson to be kicked out of Tories
Ken Livingstone has called for Boris Johnson to be expelled from the Conservative Party over the burka row.
The former London mayor, who quit the Labour Party in May after being suspended for alleged anti-Semitism, said the former foreign secretary was ‘pandering’ to bigotry.
Two years ago Mr Livingstone sparked outrage when he said Adolf Hitler supported Zionism ‘before he went mad’.
He was also heavily criticised in 2005 after accusing a Jewish reporter of behaving ‘like a concentration camp guard’. Mr Johnson beat Mr Livingstone in both the 2008 and 2012 London mayoral elections.
In an interview with radio station LBC, Mr Livingstone said: ‘We’ve had a real increase in Islamophobic incidents – very often a woman wearing a burka gets it ripped off their face.
‘Boris is pandering to that fear of Islam and bigotry.
‘We all know Boris one day is going to try and become the next leader of the Tory Party and if he’s going to be trying to mobilise bigots in the Tory Party behind him, that’s totally wrong. Again and again, he will say things that are completely wrong. He isn’t really a politician, he just wants to be a famous celebrity.
‘Frankly I think the Tory Party should dump him.’
Commons leader Andrea Leadsom yesterday praised one of Mr Johnson’s former deputy London mayors after she branded his critics as ‘disingenuous’.
In a WhatsApp group for Tory MPs, Mrs Leadsom joined in praise for an article in which Munira Mirza wrote: ‘Mockery of religious practices is not everyone’s choice of tactic, but to act like it is beyond the pale is disingenuous and hypocritical.’
Mrs Leadsom wrote: ‘Agree on the Munira article – she’s a smart lady.’
However ,Tory MP Nadine Dorries wrote in the WhatsApp group: ‘The party has f**ked up big time and one of the worst f**k ups has been the Prime Minister appearing on national TV calling for Boris to apologise. That went down really, really badly.’
Mr Johnson, who is thought to be on holiday in Italy, has not commented since his column was published on Monday.
A source close to Mr Lewis last night rejected the accusation he had breached confidentiality rules, saying: ‘He has not discussed the investigation with anybody. He explained the code of conduct process to two MPs.’